This package is a re-release of the Bajazet performance I reviewed about two years ago, but with a new cover. It was a great performance then, and I presume it's just as good now, but you don't need two copies of it!
Here's my original review:
Vivaldi's opera Bajazet tells the same tale of love redeemed by a father's death as Handel's Tamerlane. I'd have to side with the Red Priest on his choice of titles; it's Bajazet, the Ottoman prisoner of Tamerlane, who drives the story. Otherwise, it's a toss-up as to which is the more glorious music, with Handel offering more pathos and Vivaldi more fury. Operas set in the Ottoman Empire were popular in the 18th Century, even in Venice where the Turks had been feared and hated for hundreds of years. Mozart wrote his Abduction from the Seraglio at the tail end of this enthusiasm for the exotic. An interesting link exists between Vivaldi and Mozart. The role of Idaspe in Bajazet was sung by a young Florentine, Giovanni Manzoli. Idaspe is only a secondary character in the drama, but she is given spectacular muisc to sing in this 'pasticcio'; Vivaldi composed all of her arias especially for this opera, rather than recycling or borrowing arias from other works. Manzoli went on to have a 30-year successful career, and to sing the title role in the Milan debut of the boy Mozart's opera Ascanio in Alba.
Another linkage: the role of Tamerlane on this studio recording is sung by countertenor David Daniels. Just recently I heard/saw Daniels sing Tamerlane in Handel's opera, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, with Placido Domingo singing the role of Bajazet. It's tricky to compare a CD with a stage performance, but to my ears Daniels is much more successful in this Vivaldi than he was in the Handel. The problem was the total musical context in Washington, with a mixed cast of Baroque specialists and singers more experienced in Verdi and Puccini, and a modern instrument orchestra. Domingo brought his huge personality to the role of Bajazet and made the tragic figure emotionally potent, but honestly he couldn't navigate the florid 'passagi' typical of Handel's Italian operas. Thank the muses that he didn't attempt Vivaldi! This CD performance features the superb original instrumentation of Europa Galante, led by Fabio Biondi, and a cast of vocal athletes that can toss off Vivaldi's swarming arpeggios with avian grace.
The two-side box of Bajazet comes with a third disk, a DVD of studio footage of the recording sessions, featuring one aria by each of the principals. Honestly, it's a wonderful bonus. CDs of operas are inevitably mere hauntings. Seeing and hearing the characters, even in street clothes with the mikes in their faces, makes the task of assembling all those recitativos and arias into a coherent whole in one's musical mind a good deal easier.
Among the singers, for me the stand-out is Vivica Genaux, the mezzo soprano who sings Irene, the jilted fiancee of Tamerlane. In an opera where vocal display is the raison d'etre, Genaux wins the Gold. But there are no disappointments; all six of the principals are impeccable.
After decades of relegation to elevators and car radios during commute hours, the music of Vivaldi is finally gaining its rightful appreciation. Vivaldi was above all a composer of operas and other music for voices. Although so far only two of his 40+ surviving operas are available on DVD, excellent CDs of his best works are being issued almost every month. Along with recordings by Europa Galante, those by the ensembles Accademia Bizantina and Concerto Italiano are uniformly excellent.